At first, the ramen shop focused exclusively on its signature noodle soups, but the menu has since expanded with appetizers, desserts, and seasonal items that are available for a limited time.
“We want to make sure that what we do offer was at the highest quality that we could possibly do,” Junchiro Kawakami, the general manager of Santouka Tysons, said. “Now that it’s been a couple months, all of our staff have gotten used to the menu items and the general operation of the restaurant. We felt comfortable expanding our menu.”
Originally started in Hokkaido, Japan, in 1983, Santouka chose The Boro as its first Virginia location because they saw “huge potential” in all the development happening in the Tysons area, Kawakami says.
Plans for the new restaurant got underway in 2019 with the goal of opening this past March.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Fairfax County, and the opening was delayed due to concerns from the construction company about the safety of its crews, according to Kawakami.
The pause gave Kawakami and Food’s Style USA, which operates the Tysons location, time to adapt to the unique constraints imposed by the pandemic.
In addition to obtaining sneezeguards and dividers for each table, as well as protective equipment and cleaning supplies for employees, Santouka Tysons pivoted from a mostly dine-in operation to one that could accommodate more carryout and delivery orders.
That required finding takeout containers that can hold soup and noodles separately and replacing a key ingredient.
“We normally use lard for one of our ingredients, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to use that for carryout,” Kawakami explained. “As you might be able to guess, once it gets colder, it starts to look very unappetizing, so we had to change that ingredient to an oil base.”
While opening in the middle of a pandemic has been a challenge, Kawakami says the restaurant has been “going strong,” thanks to the support of its new customers and its suppliers’ flexibility with the changing construction schedule and operations.
In the hopes of carrying that success over into the new year, Santouka Tysons has added some new menu items over the past month, including tsukemen – where the noodles are dipped instead of kept in soup – and a riff on dora-yaki – a pancake filled with red bean paste – that involves bacon bits and maple syrup.
Kawakami says the family-sized, delivery-only appetizer dishes that Santouka has been offering during the holiday season have proven popular.
He has also gotten adept at using social media, particularly Facebook and Instagram, to stay engaged with customers and share promotions, such as a Japanese snack giveaway that will take place on Jan. 1.
“Our aim is to bring to… the DMV area authentic Japanese ramen,” Kawakami said. “That hasn’t changed, but how we do that, we had to think about it and change that up.”